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Israel Shoots Down Syrian Fighter Jet Over Golan Heights

First incident of its kind since 1982 highlights increasing dangers from the spillover of the Syrian conflict.

by Hannah Strange
Sep 23 2014, 1:00pm

Image via Getty

Israel said it had downed a Syrian warplane over the Golan Heights on Tuesday, the first incident of its kind in more than three decades and a sign of the growing risk to regional stability as the Syrian conflict drags in its neighbours. 

The Israeli military said that the Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet was shot down by its US-made Patriot missile system after it "infiltrated Israeli airspace" over the area, a disputed territory captured from Syria by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.

Video footage posted on YouTube showed what appeared to be the burning wreckage of the plane falling from the sky. Two parachutes are also seen as the crew ejected from the jet.

The plane may have accidentally strayed into Israeli airspace while attacking rebel targets on the Syrian side of the border, according to early indications. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the fighter jet had been bombing areas outside the border town of Quneitra. 

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the plane "approached Israeli territory in the Golan Heights in a threatening manner, and even crossed the border." But his statement also alluded to the possibility the incursion was accidental.

Yaalon said Israel "will not allow any element - neither a state nor a terrorist group - to threaten our security and violate our sovereignty", adding that the Israeli response to such threats would be robust "whether they stemmed from a mistake or were deliberate".

Syria condemned the downing of the plane as an "act of aggression" in a statement on state television, and linked it to the US-led airstrikes on Islamic State targets in the country overnight.

US Leads Airstrikes Against Islamic State in Syria. Read more here

While the incident coincided with the launch of foreign airstrikes, it does not appear to have been directly related. However the downing of the Syrian plane - the first at Israel's hands since the 1982 Lebanon war - does indicate the growing challenges for Jerusalem as it attempts to stay out of the conflict next door. 

Last month the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group, took over a Golan Heights border crossing and Israel has fired into Syrian territory on several occasions in response to shells that appear to have spilled over from battles between the rebels and the Syrian army.